Monday, March 24, 2008

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

They are photogenic. They are incredibly physically fit. They smile brightly and wave enthusiastically to the crowds before and after their races.

They hug each other after their races are over. They give great interviews with thoughtful answers.

So nice. So gracious. So accommodating. So admirable.

But when the gun goes off at the Olympic 10km Marathon Swim start, a dramatic change occurs. Adrenaline kicks in. Competitive juices start to flow. Intensity skyrockets.

When the race begins, the female marathon swimmers shed every veneer of innocence and turn into the ultimate athletic warriors. Their competitive spirit would make any NFL head coach, boxing trainer or boot camp sergeant proud.

If the world’s media can capture these athletes and their intensity on TV, in photos and in print, the sport will continue its growth and increase its popularity.

That being said, the sport may be wise to immediately clean up the unsportsmanlike tactics currently being employed more and more often by overly ambitious and unscrupulous athletes. For example, at the first FINA Marathon Swimming World Cup race in Santos, Brazil in the 2008 season, Micha Burden, one of America’s brightest Olympic hopefuls, was kicked so hard that her rib was fractured and her lung was bruised.

Similarly, Chip Peterson of North Carolina was purposefully impeded twice by a double pull-back during the final sprint to the finish. Unlike Micha, Chip sustained no injuries, but the end result was the same: a top American swimmer was knocked out of medal contention through the unsportsmanlike actions of their competitors.

Fortunately, Micha is recovering and will be able to face her adversaries goggle-to-goggle in Seville at the upcoming 2008 World Open Water Swimming Championships, which is effectively the Olympic semifinals for marathon swimming.

She, like her competitors, will go up to the starting blocks with a smile, hoping for the realization of their own Olympic 10km Marathon Swim dreams.

We all hope it ends with a victory smile.

Copyright © 2008 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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